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The Fire & Ash review that became a love letter to Jonathan Maberry (by Cuyler Creech)

Well, Benny and his friends have finally done it. They found the jet, found civilization, found a place every survivor of the zom apocalypse dreams of: Sanctuary.

But at what cost?
Tom is still dead, inner demons are tearing their humanity apart, Chong is still hanging in the balance between life and death, and the only word he can muster is a devilish “hungry…”,and the people of Sanctuary won’t answer any of their questions.
Benny and his friends may have done what they wanted to accomplish almost over a year ago when they set out onto the Ruin, but it in a world with raving zoms, callous killers, and murderously fanatic zealots bent on their eternal death, things are always too good to be true. The worst is certainly not over.
But there is one thing left. One tiny shred of hope that still filters in through the gloom and death of the Rot and Ruin.
The cure.
Someone has actually done it. A scientist named Dr. Monica McReady has cured the zombie plague. Only thing is, her notes on how to do it are missing. And so is she.
But if we know Benny, Nix, Lilah, and their new found friend and ex-Reaper, the fierce and quick-witted Riot, we know that with their swords and spears, their completely suicidal plans, the help of a hard-edged Ranger named Joe Ledger, and their boiling “warrior smart” blood driven deep into their souls by the infamous Tom Imura, they will do everything in their power, and more, to do what matters most to them.
To save Chong.
But the Night Church is always watching. Waiting for their plans to wipe human life from the earth to set in motion. Saint John waits with vigor renewed in the blood of those whom he’s sent into “the darkness” to send Benny, his friends, Sanctuary, and all of mankind there as well.
Survival demands lines be crossed, and for Benny and his friends to survive, for Chong to be saved, for Mountainside and the rest of the Nine Towns, there must be absolutely none that they won’t step over. Everyone Benny has ever come to know and love, their lives hang in the balance. And it’s on Benny Imura and his friend’s shoulders to fight the things even scarier than zoms.
Is Benny willing to see himself become a monster to fight the monster?
Lives will be crushed, people will be changed, and a war to end wars is coming. All things will be told amongst the fire and ash.
I have never had a book, in my life, affect my heart like Fire & Ash has. If a book could induce cardiac arrest, this would be that book. Your heart goes from happy beats to seeing characters we’ve grown with; to beating faster when we remember Chong is dying; to erratic when we learn that not all zoms are slow anymore; to beating against your ribcage with iron fists when Saint John and the Night Church attack; to complete cardiac explosion during the incredible final showdown of final showdowns; and then to complete and final arrest when we realize that this is the fourth and final book in this beloved series. Fire & Ash took me on a thrill ride so exhilarating, electrifying, and petrifying the standards for all good books has just been shot unbelievably sky high.
Like the infamous Tom Imura, Jonathan Maberry shows how much of a “closure specialist” he is himself as the writer of the Rot & Ruin Series. The questions we’ve been asking since the day Benny set out into the zom-infested Rot & Ruin are answered in this beast of a finale. The origin of the crashed jet. How the Reaper plague infested billions. Even some ins and outs of zom-biology (I came up with that myself. Quite proud, actually). But most of all, we find out if Maberry’s beloved characters are able to dig themselves out of the dark abyss that has become their mind and soul.
What I really liked about this final installment (one of about a billion, really), was Mr. Maberry focused on how the zombie apocalypse can not only tear us limb from limb, but can also do a serious number on our well-being, sense of self-worth, and our relationships with those we love and care for most. When I first met Mr. Maberry­ (I had the honor to meet him a few months ago at a book festival in Montgomery County, Texas), he gave me a little tidbit into Benny in Fire & Ash. As I was shakily handing my books to him to be autographed, he told me, “Benny steps up in Fire & Ash.” Mr. Maberry was not wrong. When we last saw Benny, he and Nix weren’t faring too well. Tom had just been murdered by the coward, Preacher Jack, and Benny was lost. He was constantly trying to step up to his brother’s level, trying to fix the unfixable, and this really grated on Benny’s being for what he truly was, and had so little chance to be: a teenager. This infuriated Nix, because she knew she was losing the boy she fell in love with. He’d become something darker, more calloused and receded, and we were all afraid that Benny was gone forever.
But, just as Jonathan told me as he held out my signed copies of Fire & Ash’s precursors, Benny did indeed “step up.” He finally realizes that he doesn’t have to become Tom, and that’s never what Nix Riley wanted. She wanted Benny. We wanted Benny. And, like dusty cogs clicking together with precision born in blood, fire, and ash, Benny Imura is reborn, not into the old Benny, but into a newer, better, more responsible and refined warrior. A samurai. He doesn’t become Tom. He finds himself, through the tangled arms of the dead, the cold, fierce eyes of the Night Church, and the unforgiving lands of the Rot and Ruin. Benny becomes someone Nix Riley can love again.
I cannot say that this is my favorite of the series, because I love each book in different ways. But what I can say is that this is the spectacular finale that Jonathan Maberry’s Rot& Ruin deserved. We get to see the characters, who have become our dear friends, fight for their lives as we cheer them on, crying when they cry, laughing when they laugh, and screaming when they scream. We get to see other characters, like the witty Riot, and the infamous Ranger, Joe Ledger help the gang through blood and fire, carrying the survival of the human race and the extinction of the undead on their shoulders with knives in their backs and broken souls fueling their hate of the Night Church and all the death it brings with it. Jonathan Maberry does it again for one more go around, crafting an ugly, evil, despicable, and with glistenings of hope, a beautiful post-apocalyptic world of the Rot & Ruin.
Without a single shroud of doubt, I can easily say that Fire & Ash gets ten burning stars, my novel of the year, and one of the best finales I have ever read in my life. Both young and old need to clear their schedules this August, because Fire & Ash is one thrill ride you donot want to miss. Your only excuse for not doing so is because you must be a brainless, shambling, rotting, flesh-eating zom.

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